U.S. organizations encourage bullying

Jun 18 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Organisational culture in many American workplaces actively triggers, encourages and even rewards bullying, according to new research, with employees in the U.S. bullied up to 50 percent more often than those in Scandinavia.

New research to be published in the September issue of the Journal of Management Studies compared data for the U.S. and Scandinavia and found that what it terms "persistent workplace negativity" is between 20 percent to 50 percent higher for U.S. workers than for their Scandinavian counterparts.

The study, led by Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico, found that 47 percent of U.S. workers reported experiencing one negative act at least weekly compared to 24 percent of workers in Finland and just 16 percent of those in Denmark.

Yet only one in 10 (nine per cent) of Americans were aware that the behaviour they experienced constituted bullying, leading the researchers to conclude that bullying behaviour is ingrained in the culture of the U.S. workplace.

"Although we cannot say definitively why this difference occurred, it could be that respondents have naturalized bullying as a normal part of the job, that "bullying" terminology has not made its way into popular American language, or that U.S. workers in this study associated the term with weakness or passivity and therefore avoided self-labeling," the study states.

"Indeed, the competitiveness of the U.S. culture may contribute to perceptions that being bullied reflects weakness. It also is possible that respondents successfully defended themselves against negative acts and thus believed their experiences fell outside the global definition that indicated bullying was a "situation where the targets have difficulty defending themselves."

At the heart of the problem, the study suggests, is the fact that U.S. organizational and cultural structures frequently enable, trigger, and reward bullying.

Companies stress market processes, individualism, and the importance of managers over workers, all of which discourages collaborative efforts and enables powerful individuals in organizations to bully others without recrimination.

Yet while bullies may escape censure for their actions, their behaviour nevertheless has significant consequences, even for non-bullied employees. Indeed the research found that the negative effects are widespread: employees who witness others being bullied suffer secondary harm, reporting high levels of stress, and low levels of work satisfaction.

"Workers suffering on the job and thinking they're 'going crazy' learn that the phenomenon has a name, what it looks like, that it happens to many workers, and potentially, what they might do about it," said Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik.

But she added, the study underlined the sad fact that bullying, as an underreported and relatively under-analyzed phenomenon, remains alive and well in the U.S. workplace.


Older Comments

Interesting. I'm from Finland and I have worked in the United States. I'd suggest that the U.S. has a far more aggressive / confrontational corporate culture than Scandinavia and that this leads to the effects noted.


I have just completed a book called 'Bullying in the Workplace.' This book contains page after page of stories, from people just like you and me. People who are or have been the victims of a hostile work environment. Read their stories and you will realize that you are not alone. It is happening all over. And it is high time it stopped.

Diane Monet Nobles Atlanta, GA (USA)

I just quit my job because the entire department bullied me so much that I was drained emotionally and mentally and I still cry because I really like the work I was doing but I was absolutely terrifed that something bad was going to happen to me each day I was there is got worse.


As a corollary to bullying, and perhaps even subtly supporting a culture of bullying and 'workplace violence', is the preponderance of 'put-down' humor in the workplace...where folks throw disrespectful zinger after zinger around at colleagues in order to be seen as smart, witty and sharp and others collude in allowing it, thinking it funny and acceptable, except for the person to whom the sarcasm, put-down and zinger is directed. This is also a form or workplace violence and is another form of bullying.

peter vajda Atlanta, GA

Bullying Bosses in the US as of 2009-Sept. is alive and thriving. Still most US workers do not realize they are being bullied and accept their treatment. After suffering several bully bosses and witnessing co-workers traumatized from the experience as well, I decided to write a book to make workers aware. How Organizations Empower bully bosses now on Amazon.com, details resources and suggestions to workers and to organizations on the damages caused by the bully. Workers are encouraged as well to follow certain steps in protecting themselves both financially and psychologically. I have just received a call from a Trucker who has an internet radio station; according to him there are so many female truckers who have experienced bullying in the US for decades. My mission is to keep writing, talking, and helping others to stop bully bosses in our global society; everyone should just DoRightAtWork. I am on Twitter as Dr_Vee (Marilyn E. Veincentotzs). Los Angeles California, USA

Dr_Vee Los Angeles, Calif USA

Right Wing Think Tanks do most of their thinking about how to influence the U.S. cuture and politics to allow Conservatives to gain more power. Lucky for them they don't have to strain their brains too much because they already have the money to buy power. They would never agree to allowing the workers that much freedom, even though a main talking point for the Republican Party is Personal Freedom and Individual Responsibility.

m l griffith USA